Australia’s Biodiversity and Climate Change

On International Day for Biological Diversity, it is essential to reflect on the importance of biodiversity protection in the face extreme biodiversity loss as a consequence of anthropogenic climate change and to address management practices that need to be amended to accomplish the tasks ahead.

Image by cuatrok77. Sourced via Flickr Commons.

The United Nations International Day for Biological Diversity on May 22 aims to increase understanding and awareness of biodiversity issues. For more details on the International Day for Biological Diversity, click here.

This is particularly true for Australia, as Australia is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, and our biodiversity is at risk from climate change.1

Climate change is driving the global loss of biodiversity, and it is estimated that Australia is among the top seven countries worldwide responsible for 60% of the world’s biodiversity loss.2 In Australia alone, there are 426 animal species (including presumed extinctions) and 1,339 plants are currently threatened under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. The list of nationally threatened species grows annually, and according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, there is a low chance of recovery once biodiversity has been classified as threatened.3

Australian Conservation Efforts

In focusing on the effectiveness of biodiversity management in Australia, it has been argued that Australia has had many ‘biodiversity wins’ since we ratified the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity on June 18, 1993. However, whilst Australia has implemented many actions on conservation and protection in recent years, it can be argued that the effectiveness of those actions has often failed to protect biodiversity.

Research by the Australian State of Environment in 2016 assessed the effectiveness of all biodiversity policy, legislation and management plans across Australia, and produced a database which grades the effectiveness of approaches as a way to highlight what work needs to be done to address diversity challenges. In examining actions taken to manage invasive species, mitigate pollution and protect threatened species, it becomes evident that more work is needed to address these growing issues.

  • Invasive species: Research by the Australia State of the Environment on Australia’s protective efforts targeted at invasive species and pathogens, highlights that there is a lack of nationally consistent legislation to address the impacts of invasive species. This is linked to the fact that there is a lack of clarity on roles and responsibilities of organisations and levels of government which negatively impacts the effectiveness of National strategic plans.4
  • Pollution: The Australia State of the Environment suggests that whilst many sources of pollution and the need for incentive regulatory frameworks are well established in biodiversity management policy, there is little research exploring how carbon pollution and ocean acidification are impacting biodiversity.5 If we are to address the impacts of carbon pollution and ocean acidification, there is a need to a) increase knowledge around the pollutant levels in marine environments, b) develop approaches to detecting and dealing with micropollutants, and c) establish an understanding of the impacts and sources of marine debris.6
  • Threatened species: In examining the management of threatened species, the Australia State of the Environment has found that the monitoring of threatened species is limited to a small proportion of species which impacts on the effectiveness of current initiatives.7 Furthermore, there is an inadequate amount of funding and resources implemented for recovery actions, and the researchers argue that overall, the key pressures impacting threatened species are increasing.8

Climate change action is biodiversity protection 

Our biologically diverse regions, plants and species which have been at the centre of conservation efforts are still experiencing significant damage, and we will continue to witness biodiversity losses if we fail to take climate action.9 The strategies to biodiversity protection that Australia has taken are essentially redundant unless we acknowledge that climate change will have detrimental impacts on biodiversity, resulting in future losses.10

Lastly, it is important to recognise that while human-related actions have led to the current and future losses in biodiversity, the fact that humans are the biggest cause of this loss, means that we have the power to act, and change the current path of destruction. Future approaches aimed at biodiversity protection and conservation in Australia needs to occur across all levels of government, and if it is to be effective, it must be collaborative and it must address how the intersecting challenges of climate change interact and cumulatively impact ecosystems and their biodiversity.11


1. Preece, Noel D. (2017). ‘Australia among the world’s worst on biodiversity conservation.’ The Conversation (November 3, 2017). Access here.
3. Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2010). Australia’s Biodiversity. Year Book Australia, 2009–10 (June 4, 2010). Access here.
4. Australian State of Environment (2016). The effectiveness of biodiversity management Biodiversity (2016, 2011). Access here.
5. Ibid.
6. Ibid.
7. Ibid.
8. Ibid.
9. Steffen, W., Burbidge, A. A., Hughes, L., Kitching, R., Lindenmayer, D., Musgrave, W., & Werner, P. A. (2009). Australia’s biodiversity and climate change: a strategic assessment of the vulnerability of Australia’s biodiversity to climate change. CSIRO Publishing. Access here.
10.Howden, M.. Hughes, L., Dunlop, M., Zethoven, I., Hilbert, D., and Chilcott, C. (2003): Climate Change Impacts On Biodiversity In Australia, Outcomes of a workshop sponsored by the Biological Diversity Advisory Committee, 1–2 October 2002, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra.
11.See, for example, Davis, M. B. (1998). Biological diversity and indigenous knowledge. Department of the Parliamentary Library. Access here; Guerrero, A. M., McAllister, R. Y. A. N., Corcoran, J., & Wilson, K. A. (2013). Scale mismatches, conservation planning, and the value of social‐network analyses. Conservation Biology27(1), 35-44; Woinarski, J. (2017). We need our country; our country needs us. The Conversation (June 20, 2017). Access here

Anastasia Mortimer is the Content Editor & Knowledge Translation Officer at the Sydney Environment Institute. Anastasia completed Honours at the University of Sydney in 2016, and was awarded First-class Honours. Her thesis examined discourse produced by the Western Australian State Government and unequal relations of power in the case of the proposed LNG development on James Price Point.